The CAA: The coming of a Hindu Rashtra

Even before it is implemented, the CAA has been weaponised to strike fear in the hearts of vulnerable Muslims who do not possess valid papers

A protest against the CAA, with a placard calling for this 'black law' to be rolled back (photo: National Herald archives)
A protest against the CAA, with a placard calling for this 'black law' to be rolled back (photo: National Herald archives)

Herald View

We hear that any day now the CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act) Rules may be notified. The Act itself, which effectively shows Muslims their place in the ruling party’s scheme of things, was passed four years ago.

If you go by Union home minister Amit Shah’s recent assertion, the CAA rules will be notified before the general election is announced and the model code of conduct kicks in. Union minister Shantanu Thakur from West Bengal (he is minister of state for ports, shipping and waterways) had said last month that the Rules would be notified within a week.

These worthies must know that the Rules need to be tabled in Parliament before the law can be implemented, and the last opportunity to do so in the current Lok Sabha was its recently concluded budget session. So, the CAA rules will have to wait till the next Lok Sabha convenes. Unless, who knows, they have extra-constitutional designs; these are surmises for a situation where constitutional restraints hold.

The norm is—or should we say was—for Rules to be notified within six months of Parliament approving a law. For the CAA, the home ministry has obtained as many as seven extensions since December 2019, when the law was passed. The last of those extensions, obtained in December 2023, lapses in June 2024.

Why, then, are Shah et al talking about notifying the CAA rules now, when they didn’t place the Rules in Parliament during the budget session? The reasons are plain. In election season, the CAA is a handy red rag, with potential polarising dividends for the Bharatiya Janata Party.

It’s the reason why the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya had to be consecrated even before it could be fully built. It’s a dog whistle for their supporters, and a barely veiled assertion for friends, foes and adversaries alike that the BJP and the larger Sangh Parivar will press ahead with the reconstitution of India as a Hindu Rashtra.

It is an attempt to get a rise out of the Opposition, to engage with it on terms that suit the BJP’s divisive narrative; it’s part of the cynical calculus that even to denounce this project is to add grist to their propaganda mill, to fight the coming of a Hindu Rashtra is to be, by their lights, ‘anti-national’; it is also to affect confidence that the election results are a foregone conclusion, and to psych political fence-sitters into believing that to be with them is to be on the winning side.

It suits them and their project that nobody in mainstream media will dare ask the home minister to explain the four-year delay in notifying the CAA rules or the need for seven extensions. True, the Shaheen Bagh protests in December 2019—which had to be called off in March 2020, after Mr Modi announced that most calamitous pandemic lockdown—had briefly put them on the backfoot, but there have been opportunities since.

If the CAA rules were not foregrounded, it was because there were other weapons in the BJP’s communal arsenal, and they didn’t need to use them all at once. Communalism has greater value as an ongoing project. If the repeal of Article 370 was one such weapon, the Ram Mandir saga was another.

Before the Ayodhya story could outlive its relevance, there was talk of Gyanvapi and Kashi and Mathura and Dwarka. There is also the Uniform Civil Code, which does not have to be ‘uniform’ as long as we can toss out Muslim personal laws. Note: there will be equal portions Hindu triumphalism and Hindu victimhood in this toxic potion.

The CAA, it is worth recalling, was sprung in Parliament in December 2019 and passed without much deliberation.

For the first time in the history of independent India, we have a provision in the Constitution that allows the government to discriminate on the basis of religion. While the stated objective is to grant Indian citizenship to refugees persecuted in neighbouring countries, said refugees must be Hindus, Parsis, Christians, Sikhs, Jains or Buddhists. No prizes for guessing which community is not on that list.

Even before it is implemented, the CAA has been weaponised to strike fear in the hearts of vulnerable Muslims, who do not possess valid papers. Why are others without those papers less worried? Because even if they fall through the net of a revised National Register of Citizens (NRC), they will be rehabilitated via the CAA, when it sees the light of day.

Let’s hope we never see the light of that day.

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Published: 04 Mar 2024, 8:00 AM